Combe Stories: Year Four
by Laura Mason
Aragorn son of Arathorn enters Combe in the early afternoon.
No, Strider the sinister and mysterious Ranger enters Combe, as is evidenced by the suspicious looks most of the villagers throw his way. Aragorn is used to this treatment, and he knows that even if his wildest dreams are somehow realized, the innocent people of this land will never know that they once scorned a King in their midst.
He never came to Combe so often until Gandalf asked him to visit Frodo regularly. He was instructed to keep an eye open for any strange behavior that might indicate that Bilbo's ring was influencing the hobbit. Of course, Gandalf did not ask him to remember Frodo's birthday, or to bring him a gift. In his pocket is a thin edition of elvish poetry, a volume that he'd been given while a child. Frodo should be able to manage most of the words himself, but of course Aragorn can assist him when he visits. Time alone with Frodo is, after all, the very best way to fulfill his charge from Gandalf.
He turns the corner at the blacksmith's shed and sees Frodo ahead. Despite being smaller than most of the people in the street, the hobbit stands out. In fact, he fairly shines with happiness and good health. Aragorn stops to watch him for a moment, smiling to see his happy face, relieved that Bilbo's cousin is well and Gandalf has nothing to fear.
But why does Frodo seem so cheerful? Is it just his birthday making him glow? As Aragorn watches, an older man moves away and he sees Frodo's companion. It is a hobbit lass, her hair the sun-kissed light brown color most hobbits in Archet seem to favor. She is smiling, too, fairly beaming with happiness, and she is holding Frodo's arm and speaking close to his ear. He watches her blush, smile, nod, and then Frodo is hugging her enthusiastically.
Of course, hobbits are generally quite open with their emotions. There's nothing unusual in seeing two hobbits hug or even kiss in the street, even in Bree-land.
Aragorn turns and walks away, heading down another path toward Doc's house. He will leave the book with Doc for Frodo's birthday dinner, and get back to his men and his duties. He can report that Frodo is quite normal, very well in fact. Gandalf will be happy. There is nothing to keep Aragorn here in Combe.
He walks very quickly, head down, face set, anxious to be done with his errand and on his way. A few minutes later he is pounding on Doc's door.
"Estel, how nice to see you. I thought you might be visiting soon, for Frodo's birthday."
"Hello, Doc. I just came to drop off this book for Frodo." He tries to hand over the packet, but Doc guides him inside instead of taking it.
"Frodo would be much happier to receive it from your hand, I think. But if you must be going, first have a cup of ale with me. It's a warm day for September, and you'll have a long road." Doc guides him into the kitchen as he speaks, and Aragorn cannot think of a graceful way to free himself. Doc Thistle is a friend, he's helped the Rangers on more than one occasion. So before he knows it, Aragorn is sitting at his kitchen table, drinking ale and visiting with Doc, who chats about every subject under the sun -- except Frodo.
If Doc is going to keep him here, he could at least have the decency to give him the news about Frodo and his sweetheart. But no, the man is babbling about his book and the copies they are working on for healers in Archet, with hobbit-size doses. Doc's only comment about Frodo is that he is too healthy to be a useful test subject. Other than the bout of illness two years ago, after he was attacked by Harle Oakes, Frodo has been the picture of hobbit health.
"Of course, he doesn't have a typical hobbit's girth, so the hobbit matrons are always sending over food to try to fatten him up. His aunt in Buckland, too, seems to think there is no food in all of Bree-land." Doc laughs heartily and takes another sip of ale, and Aragorn drains his mug and rises, slamming down the cup a little too hard.
"I must leave..." But he's interrupted by a cheerful voice at the kitchen door.
"I'm home, Doc! And I found those apples you like..." The voice cuts off, then Aragorn has an armful of warm, laughing hobbit. "Estel! You came for my birthday. How marvelous!"
"Hello, Frodo. It's good to see you." He sets Frodo back on his feet carefully but quickly. Frodo blushes and backs away, turning to Doc dutifully with his market basket. But as he shows his purchases, he keeps sneaking glances at Aragorn over his shoulder, his eyes alight with happiness.
Frodo seems the same as ever. Which makes no sense if he is now involved with a lass, or engaged. Aragorn closes his eyes for a moment and pictures the scene, how intimate they seemed.
"Mrs. Lacklatch will be sending her daughter with a cake later tonight. She wants you to take a look at her and can't think of another way to get Belle to agree to it. Oh, and I have the most marvelous news. Blossom Tunnelly is expecting at last. She told me while we were at market, and said she'll be coming to see you tomorrow. She and Nob are certain it was your tonic that did the trick, and she wants you to be her doctor and deliver the baby."
"Really? Most hobbits prefer their own healer in Archet, or old Mrs. Hollybrook, the midwife in Bree."
"No, sir. She says you're her man." The look at Aragorn as he says these words, and the rosy blush that spreads over Frodo's face, speak volumes. Aragorn returns Frodo's gaze until Doc interrupts them briskly.
"Well, we don't want to keep our Ranger from his duties, Frodo my lad."
"Estel, are you leaving already? Can't you stay for my birthday dinner?" It always surprises Aragorn how quickly Frodo's face can turn from sunshine to shadow when it's time for him to leave. But he's never mentioned it to Gandalf.
"Yes, Frodo, I believe I can stay. I'll even spend the night, if Doc doesn't object to a guest."
Whatever Doc's real feelings on the matter, when facing Frodo's pleading gaze the man merely nods agreement.
"Run make up the guest room, Frodo. Then you'd best get started on dinner."
Once Frodo is gone, Aragorn turns to Doc Thistle.
"Can you describe the very happy Mrs. Tunnelly to me?"
"She's a sturdy hobbit lass, just over 40. Sandy blonde hair, brown eyes. Why on earth do you wish to know this, Estel?"
"No reason." Aragorn sits at the table and plays with his empty mug until Frodo, humming merrily, returns to the room.
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